I Climbed Mt. Akaishidake and Met a Japanese Serow!

YUGA KURITA Japanese Serow_9E40668Nikon D800E w/ SIGMA ART 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM

The Japanese serows are rare animals. It is quite rare to see them even for a person like me who often lurks in mountains. They went nearly extinct in the 50′s. The Japanese government designated them as a “Special National Monument” and prohibited the hunting of the serow. Since then, the number of the serows increased. If you’re lucky, you might meet them in the country like I did.

Actually, it was the second time for me to meet them. The first time was the day before the day I took this shot. I climbed Mount Akaishidake (3,120m/10,240ft). It’s already November.Lodges in the mountain are already closed. So you need to carry your own sleeping bag and tent (or something similar) to get to the top of Mt. Akaishidake in this season.  It wasn’t easy mountaineering for me as the summit was frozen and rather slippery but the snow wasn’t thick enough for crampons.
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My Sweet Hououzan (Part I)

Yuga Kurita Mount Fuji from Mount Houou blue sea of clouds dawn long exposure_4E02109Nikon D800E w/ SIGMA ART 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM

The South Alps (of Japan) is sort of a sacred area for landscape photographers specialized in Mount Fuji. Fuji does look really awesome when seen from other high mountains.  Needless to say that the most important sacred place is Mt. Fuji itself for us. But we can’t shoot Fuji when we are on the top of Fuji, you know?

According to my brief research on the South Alps, the Mount Houou is the best destination for me, because it isn’t too hard to get to the top even if you aren’t very experienced in climbing but the view of Fuji from this mountain is really superb.  I concluded this mountain should be my first target in the South Alps area. There are some course options. The easiest route runs from Yashajin-Touge but I chose the Dondokozawa (ドンドコ沢) route, which features a couple of waterfalls, for ascending, and the Chudou (中道) route for descending. As I forgot to record a GPS log, the line showing the route in the map is not very accurate.
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Reflections of Mount Fuji are just like vain dreams

Yuga Kurita Lake Saiko Mount Fuji Reflection_KE06536
Nikon D800E w/ SIGMA 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM

For landscape photographers, Saiko (Lake Sai) is the least popular lake among the Fujigoko (Fuji Five Lakes). The number of photos of Mt. Fuji taken from this lake is much less than the other four Fujigoko lakes. The main reason why this place isn’t very popular is that Mt. Ashiwada lies between the lake and Mt. Fuji and thus we can only see the top of Fuji from Saiko. By the way, “-ko” indicates lake so Lake Saiko is a bit redundant translation but I think it is more understandable for those who are not familiar with Japanese. There is one great location for shooting mount Fuji on the lakeshore of Saiko, which is located at the western bay of Lake Sai.

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What are the virgin landscapes of Japan?

I have trouble translating this article. If I could, I wanted to translate the title of the article as “What are the Genfukeis of Japan?” A genfukei seems to be a concept only exists in Japan. Or at least, It doesn’t exist as an English word. I couldn’t find any words that directly correspond to the word.

Genfukeis (原風景) are landscapes that remain in one’s memory most vividly when he/she gets old. It depends on each individual. But when we use the phrase “a genfukei of Japan (Nippon no Genfukei),” it indicates landscapes that invoke the emotions of nostalgia for the majority of the Japanese.

After I posted  a blog entry about Mt. Fuji and cosmos flowers, I received an unexpected reaction from a Slovakian guy. He argued that cosmos bipinnatus originated in Mexico and introduced to Japan in the Meiji era. They explosively proliferated in Japan, and now represent the autumn season.  He said the photos are beautiful but it isn’t good in terms of environmental protection.  Honestly speaking, I didn’t know that cosmos flowers were introduced to Japan in the 19th century. Kanji characters given to cosmos flowers is 秋桜. 秋 indicated autumn and 桜 indicates cherry blossoms. I vaguely thought that it didn’t originate in Japan but  it was probably imported to Japan much before than that.

Yuga Kurita Mount Fuji Terraced Rice Fields Lycoris radiata_9E49437
Nikon D800E w/ SIGMA 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM

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Come to think of it, it’s the equinox day!

YUGA KURITA Mount Fuji Taikanzan Dawn_DSC7785
Nikon D5300 w/ AF-S Nikkor 18-140mm f3.5-5.6G ED VR

According to the weather report, it is going to be fine and Fuji will probably be visible. I hate shooting in a crowded place in weekends. It is a Tuesday. I’ll probably enjoy shooting Fuji without being bothered by anyone.

I somehow wanted to go to Taikanzan, a popular vantage point to admire Fuji in Hakone. This place was haunted by legendary Japanese painter Taikan Yokoyama as he loved drawing Mt. Fuji from here. This mountain was originally called Daikanzan but was changed into Taikanzan in memory of the great painter after he died. That’s the story written in guidebooks. I’ve never found any authentic sources to prove the story though.

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Cosmos flowers also look very nice in the landscapes of Mt. Fuji

YUGA KURITA Cosmos Mount Fuji Lake Shoji_4E00970
Nikon D800E w/ AF-S Nikkor 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5G ED

“Evening primroses look very well in the landscape of Fuji,” said Osamu Dazai in his popular novel Fugaku Hyakkei (100 views of Mt. Fuji). As I told in my previous post about the novel, Dazai didn’t actually see Fuji and evening primroses together in the same landscape. Some thoughtful people interpret this sentence as meaning that Dazai likened Fuji to the Japanese society and himself to evening primroses. When Dazai wrote this novel, Japan was governed by the military juggernaut. He was not conscripted into the army as he was physically as well as mentally fragile. I can imagine how he felt towards the society. It was a dark age in the history of Japan. There was no freedom. The military dictatorship severely controlled individuals. I think every creators and artists would hate such a government. Evening primroses don’t look spectacular at all. I thought they were just blooming weeds till recently. Honestly, speaking there are other flowers that look much better in the landscapes of Mt. Fuji. To name a few, cherry blossoms and cosmos flowers come to my mind.

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Mt. Kokushigatake is an amazing place to shoot Fuji!

Yuga Kurita Mount Fuji from Mount Kokushigadake DSC02089
Sony α7 (ILCE-7) w/ FE 28-70mm F3.5-5.6 OSS (SEL2870)

I’ve always wanted to shoot Fuji from the top of Mt. Kokushigatake. I tried to climb the mountain last November, but the gate of the forest road leading to the mountain was closed earlier than usual due to heavy snow.  I was very busy with my exhibition in summer.  I waited for ten months, and eventually I got an opportunity to try again.

I left home at midnight heading to Oodarumi Touge (大弛峠), which is located on the northern border of Yamanashi prefecture. My house is located in the southern part of Yamanashi prefecture. According to Google Map, it takes three hours, much longer than going to Gotenba or Hakone. Two deers and one fox jumped in front of my car on my way there. Since I expected some animals would do it so I could safely avoid them. Yamanashi prefecture is one of the least populated prefectures in Japan. If you see a sign board making alert of animals, drive slowly so that you can safely avoid them.

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Long exposure is philosophy

YUGA KURITA Mount Fuji Chureito Slow Shutter ND filter_4E00245
Nikon D800E w/SIGMA ART 24-105mm F4 DG OS HSM

When you gain some experience in photography, you realise the importance of lighting. When it comes to still life and portrait photography, you can control lighting using gear such a strobe light. As far as landscape photography is concerned, you cannot basically lighten the subject. I said ‘basically’ because you can use light painting technique, for example, to lighten subjects in the foreground when shooting night photography. You can also use an electric flash to lighten plants (such as maple trees and sakura trees) in the foreground when taking backlit shots . But you can’t light up huge subjects such as Mount Fuji. For that reason, it is vitally important for landscapes to be at the right place at the right time, that is, visit a place where you can make a beautiful composition when nature gives best light. Even when we try to do so, we are  at the wrong place at the wrong time at times as nature is always beyond our expectation.
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Photo Exhibition by Chotoku Tanaka

田中長徳写真展『ライカと共に、世界の果てへ : WIEN1973』Yuga Kurita_4E00242
Photo: Nikon D800E w/ SIGMA 24-105mm F4 DG OS HSM

I visited ISLAND GALLERY to check out a photo exhibition by Chotoku Tanaka. Chotoku is a famous Leica user in Japan and the exhibition featured photographs taken in 1973 using his 1932 Leica D2. He used Nikon 50mm f/2.0 and SIGMA minitel 200mm to take the photos.

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My works are in display at a cake shop in Tokyo

 

Yuga Kurita Mount Fuji AkaFuji Nikon D600 14-24mm Oshino_KS49997_KS49997Photo taken with Nikon D600 w/ AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm F2.8G ED

It was a busy day. I took this shot in the early morning in Oshino.

I slept for a couple of hours and left Fujiyoshida to Tokyo. First, I visited Shinjuku. The area close to the west entrance of Shinjuku (A.K.A. Shinjuku Nishiguchi) is the best place to buy camera gear in Tokyo. Then, I went to Nikon’s Service Centre in Ginza to have them clean the sensors of my Nikon cameras. There are many camera-related shops and galleries in Shinjuku and Ginza areas. Great places for photo enthusiasts.
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風景写真家 栗田ゆが